Mistress America Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke
  • Director: Noah Baumbach
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • Release Date: December 1, 2015
  • Run Time: 86 minutes


            I have struggled with much of Noah Baumbach’s filmmaking, if only because of his tendency to focus on narratives with extremely flawed characters. In some cases, this suits the stories being told. It would be difficult to show the strain of a divorce without exposing the way that it can bring out the worst in the family being torn apart, as he did with The Squid and the Whale. But even in that film the problem I had with the characters had little to do with the mistakes that they made, but rather, the superiority and condescension used as they refused to admit fault in themselves. From that film on, Baumbach has had a fascination with pretentious and unlikable leading characters, a trend which only seemed to increase as he began collaborating with actress Greta Gerwig, who rose into relevance through a movement of film centered around performances so intentionally raw that they are often more annoying than amusing.


            I hated Frances Ha with a strong passion, giving it one of the angriest reviews of my career. While part of this was out of disgust for the nepotism involved in the filmmaking, I was more annoyed by how vapid the screenplay and its characters were, elevating the distasteful elements of both the Mumblecore movement and Baumbach’s style to a whole new level of self-important waspishness. These are the very reasons I avoid the television series “Girls,” so I was fully anticipating the need for another hate-filled review when I heard that Gerwig and Baumbach had collaborated once again. So, you can imagine how delightful a surprise it was to find Mistress America may very well be Baumbach’s most accessible and enjoyable film.


            Are there still self-absorbed and flawed characters? Absolutely, but this time around Baumbach has the sense to spread the character’s shortcomings around amongst the cast. He also does the audience a great service by matching their weaknesses with strengths, so that all characters are a mixed bag of good and bad. I truly believe that this was his intention all along, though Baumbach’s filmmaking in the past suffered from his unwillingness to allow sentimentality to seep into the character analysis. The result felt cold and calculated, as though the filmmaker was intentionally keeping the audience at arm’s length. Baumbach changes this in Mistress America, all with the decision to provide audiences with what may very well be his most relatable protagonist in 20 years of filmmaking.


             Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a lonely college freshman in New York, unable to make friends in her university life. When her mother suggests that Tracy meet up with the daughter of her soon-to-be husband, she resists the idea but eventually calls her future stepsister out of desperation. Brooke is simply another amalgamation of actress Gerwig’s own personality quirks; a variation on her role as Frances with all of the irresponsibility and self-centeredness. In fact, I almost wish her character name had been Brooke, and this treated like an unofficial sequel, because part of me wants to believe Frances would at some point at least mature enough to become Brooke. Brooke’s flaws are tied to her strengths, which is simultaneously what draws Tracy to her as a role model and the subject of a slightly scathing short story.


            This short story plays a significant role in moving the plot forward into the traditional act structure, but Mistress America is always happy to slip into aimless sequences of montage and purposeless comedic banter between the characters. It almost feels like a genre film marrying independent sensibility in the same way as Dazed and Confused, without the period nostalgia attached. Whatever this is, I have never had a more pleasant turn-around from the expectations I originally had from a film. Much, if not all of this is due to the character of Tracy, whether it is the vulnerable performance by Kirke or simply the uncertainty of the character, in comparison to the arrogance I am accustomed to loathing in Baumbach’s protagonists.


            The Blu-ray release comes with a digital HD copy of the film, though the extras on the actual disc are rather unimpressive. There are a few promotional featurettes, which means that they are more commercials to get people to see the film than any information on the actual filmmaking process. Also included are a photo gallery and the theatrical trailer. The high definition itself is somewhat unnecessary for this film, which is more fueled by the pop soundtrack than the visuals.


    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10

    Historical Significance:  5/10

    Special Features: 4/10

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